WASHINGTON, June 4 -- The U.S. government needs to reexamine its space policy that blocks its space agency NASA from working on bilateral projects with China, a 286-page report mandated by U.S. Congress said Wednesday.
"This policy, while driven by congressional sentiment, denies the U.S. partnership with a nation that will probably be capable of making truly significant contributions to international collaborative missions," said the report from the U.S. National Research Council (NRC).
"It may be time to reexamine whether this policy serves the long-term interests of the United States," according to the report titled "Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U. S. Program of Human Space Exploration."
U.S. space agency NASA is prohibited from bilateral cooperation with China, due to a federal law first introduced in 2011 by Frank Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA.
Under the law, neither NASA nor the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy may "develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company," including "the hosting of official Chinese visitors at facilities belonging to or utilized by NASA."
"It is ... evident that given the rapid development of China's capabilities in space, it is in the best interests of the United States to be open to its inclusion in future international partnerships," said the report. "Current federal law preventing NASA from participating in bilateral activities with the Chinese serves only to hinder U.S. ability to bring China into its sphere of international partnerships and reduces substantially the potential international capability that might be pooled to reach Mars."
Meanwhile, the report concluded that a human Mars mission in the 2030s won't happen unless NASA's budget has a 5 percent increase per year.
"Any human exploration program will only succeed if it is appropriately funded and receives a sustained commitment on the part of those who govern our nation," said Mitchell Daniels, Purdue University president, former Governor of Indiana, and co- chair of the NRC committee that wrote the report.
"That commitment cannot change direction election after election. Our elected leaders are the critical enablers of the nation's investment in human spaceflight, and only they can assure that the leadership, personnel, governance, and resources are in place in our human exploration program," Daniels said.
NASA said in a statement it welcomes the NRC report.
"There is a consensus that our horizon goal should be a human mission to Mars," the U.S space agency said, adding "the stepping stone and pathways thrust of the NRC report complements NASA's on- going approach."